|16 September 2013|
|Jonas Valanciunas has moved further into the limelight at this, his second EuroBasket as Robertas Javtokas has taken more of a backseat role |
Jonas Valanciunas turned 21 in June. Three months later at EuroBasket 2013, it's clear that the torch of Lithuania's top center is close to being passed to the Toronto Raptors big man.
Valanciunas has already been a dominant force at times in Slovenia - his second EuroBasket and third major tournament despite his tender age. His overall numbers are 7.0 points, a team-best 6.0 rebounds and one block while shooting almost 70% from the floor and 77% from the free-throw line.
But in the five games he has played at least 13 minutes, the Utena native's numbers increase to 11.8 points, 8.6 rebounds (2.2 offensive boards) and 1.4 blocks in just under 22 minutes.
"Right now, he's the main center for us," said 33-year-old Lithuania center Robertas Javtokas, a veteran of his seventh EuroBasket as well as two World Championships and two Olympics.
"He gives us a lot. I hope for the next games that he will give us more and more because he's unstoppable and unbelievable. I play against him in every practice and I know how it feels."
Lithuanian forward Linas Kleiza agreed that the torch is on its way to Jonas, who was so highly touted at Lithuania 2011 that he even had a song written about him.
"The sky's the limit for him. He's just got to continue to work on all the other stuff. He's good on offence, but we need him to be good everywhere," said Kleiza.
Valanciunas and Kleiza have a special connection as they spent last season together with the Raptors.
"It was great having Linas there because he supported me all the time, telling me how I should act here and there," said Valanciunas, who finished on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team after collecting 8.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in his first season.
But in Slovenia, just like any young player, Valanciunas has had his ups and downs. In the other three games with less than 13 minutes, he has averaged 1.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.3 blocks in just over 10 minutes.
"He's very positive, he's a good kid, very talented. Sometimes, he misses control of the game. But he's young. We are asking from him [things] like he should be 27 or so. It's impossible," said Lithuanian coach Jonas Kazlauskas, who mentioned 22-year-old Donatas Motiejunas being in the same case.
"Those guys will be up and down. They will have good and bad games. We are asking too much," said the coach.
It's hard to forget that Valanciunas is only 21 when you look at his already-matured body and his at times All Tournament Team level production.
Valanciunas may not be the number one just yet, but the torch is close to getting to him.